|Appalachian School of Law Shootings|
Fri, 18 Jan 2002
Attorney Thomas Blackwell left Chicago for the mountains of Appalachia because he believed he could make a difference in the lives of law students there, his former colleagues recalled Thursday.
Blackwell, who began his teaching career at Chicago-Kent College of Law in 1997, was among three killed Wednesday when a former student at Appalachian School of Law went on a shooting rampage after learning he had been dismissed for failing grades. The school’s dean and a student also were killed.
On Thursday, Peter Odighizuwa appeared in court in Grundy, Va., charged with three counts of capital murder, three counts of attempted capital murder and six charges for use of a firearm in a felony.
Blackwell, 41, graduated among the top 10 percent of his law school class from Duke University in 1986, earning a master’s in philosophy the same year. A Texas native, he immediately joined a large firm in that state. In the next decade, he moved first to a smaller firm and then to a solo practice before he went into teaching.
Professors at Kent, where Blackwell taught legal writing, said he was a natural teacher who was excited when offered the chance to join Appalachian.
“He relished the challenge of being part of a small faculty and making a difference,” said Harold Krent, dean at Kent.
Krent last spoke with his former colleague 10 days ago in New Orleans.
“[Blackwell] was attracted to the school and to the size of the community,” he said. “He wasn’t someone who needed the lights of the big city.”
Blackwell left Kent in 1999 to join the law school in Grundy. It had opened just two years earlier, with a unique mission to train lawyers to work in the economically depressed coalfield region.
The chance to help the school grow and rear his family in the tiny community appealed to him, said Susan Adams, an associate professor at Kent.
“He reveled in the possibility of being in on the ground floor of the development of a very interesting law school,” she said of Blackwell, remembering him as one who always made time for students and faculty. “He was a very good man.”
In 1996, a decade after earning his law degree, Blackwell wrote that he was re-evaluating his professional choices.
“I have now come to the conclusion that money is not only not the priority in life, it is not a priority in life . . .” he said in a story that appeared in the law magazine Legal Times. “As a result, I am re-evaluating what I want to be when I grow up.”
The next year he joined the faculty at Chicago-Kent.
Mary Rose Strubbe, an associate professor there, said Blackwell was excited after his first visit to the Appalachian School of Law.
“He was a person who made a difference,” she said. “He was impressed with the law school’s ambition. He loved the area in terms of its geography and small towniness.”